In 1992, my chemical tanker was anchored at Kingston bay. I was in my cabin, talking to the agent on VHF. Suddenly the whole ship lurched, and i felt that my ship had been rammed by some other ship. So i ran on the bridge wings , and found nothing special. The sea was calm with no ripples or wake.
I noticed my entire crew and officers were already standing on the poop deck. I was the only Indian, in command, the rest were Jamaican, with a Russian Chief Engineer thrown in for good measure..
The crew shouted , to me that Kingston just had a earth quake. The shore buildings were very near, and i could see people running out of all buildings. In the distance I could see dust from a hill landslide.
That reminded me of Port Royal. Port Royal was the richest city in the world , till at 11:43 a.m. on June 7, 1692, a severe earth quake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, decimated everything.
Out of 4 forts, only one Fort Charles remained standing. Everything else slid under the sea in two minutes, killing 3000 people.. Before the earthquake, the town consisted of 6,500 inhabitants living in about 2,000 brick and wood buildings.
Indeed it could be said, that this horrific event was God’s punishment for unlawful proceedings ( void in human consciousness ) by a group of sinful people. It was home to some of the vilest individuals on earth, and had tonnes of stolen gold.
On the very night of the quake, those who survived the disaster in the destroyed town were said to have been back at their "old trade of drinking, swearing and whoring". No preacher who ever entered the port hoping to convert the wayward masses of the island ever lasted more than a few weeks before departing to more civilized places.
From 1660 to 1692, Port Royal therefore became a haven for rogues such as the Welshman, Henry Morgan and 'three-fingered' Jack Rack ham.
After this 1692 disaster, Port Royal's commercial role was steadily taken over by the new City of Kingston.
Port Royal is the inspiration for movies like Pirates of the Caribbean.
Spain maintained control over the island of Jamaica for 146 years, until the English invasion of 1655. Port Royal provided a safe harbour initially for privateers and subsequently for pirates plying the shipping lanes to and from Spain and Panama. Buccaneers found Port Royal appealing for several reasons.
Its proximity to trade routes allowed them easy access to prey Spanish ships sailing back from South America with gold. When they returned to their sanctuary, no mortal dared enter Port Royal in pursuit, as it was guarded by 4 forts. This pirate haven was one of the best defended ports in the world and most feared.
By the 1660s, the city had gained a reputation as the Sodom of the New World where most residents were pirates, cut throats, or prostitutes. . During a twenty-year period that ended in 1692, nearly 8000 people lived in Port Royal.
The colonial city of Port Royal, the largest English-held city in the Caribbean, was a haven for pirates and other less-than-savory characters under British rule, Buccaneers, gamblers, prostitutes etc. In 1687, when Port Royal was commonly referred to as “the wickedest city on earth. The harbour was large enough to accommodate several ships and provided a place to careen and repair these vessels.
This was the place where pirates from all over the world, spend their shore leave. Port Royal transformed into a criminal nest. Here all pirates were equal. There were hundreds of brothels and taverns. At the height of its popularity, the city had one drinking house for every ten residents . They drank bombo or bumboo, a mixture of rum, water, sugar, and nutmeg. Rum fustian was another popular drink that blended raw eggs with sugar, sherry, gin, and beer. Pirates also enjoyed beer, sherry, brandy, and port.
They played cards or rolled dice, although most articles of agreement forbade gambling on board ships to prevent arguments that divided the crew or proved fatal to one or more participants. When ashore, pirates squandered their booty on drink, women, and games of chance.
Pirates or Port Royal emulated gentleman merchants by wearing knee breeches, stockings, embroidered waistcoats, lace-trimmed shirts, long coats, and shoes with silver buckles and high heels, to impress the ladies. And some of these ladies were indeed rich and pretty. A few wore powdered wigs or ornate jewelry. They acquired these brightly colored garments as shares of booty taken from captured ships. While at sea, they usually wore one outfit until the garments were no better than rags.
Most of these Pirates were desperadoes. Many of the men were killed and their families were shipped off to the dungeons of the Inquisition; those men that survived turned to a life of piracy.
Have you heard the song "Sixteen men on a dead man's ship? Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum"? That jingle told the tale of 16 pirates marooned on the BVI's island of Dead Chest with a single bottle of grog. The fight which ensued left no survivors. Such was the brutality of the pirates.
When I took my wife and children to Disney land in USA and Japan, it was indeed amusing to the dummy Pirates serenading the ladies, drinking , swearing and generally living it up like a “ sailor on shore leave”.
CAPT AJIT VADAKAYIL